To be familiar with Brooks Wheelan, even in passing, is to know him like an old friend. Whether it’s from his time on Saturday Night Live or his hilarious stand-up, the lanky Iowan’s jokes can sprawl out into fantastical stories, often about his former day job as biomedical engineer (yeah, the guy’s a real dummy).
In 2014, Wheelan recorded his debut album, This is Cool, Right?, here in Madison at The Comedy Club on State. “It’s my favorite comedy club in America,” he says. “If I was going to do an album, I wanted to pick the place where I’ve had my favorite sets.”
He returns to the venue tonight to begin a three-night run, and The Bozho caught up with him ahead of the visit to talk comedy in the Midwest, the universal truths of day jobs, and Anthony Kiedis’ nonsense lyrics.
You started dabbling with comedy when you were still living in Iowa. Did you ever make the drive up here when you were just starting out?
Never to Madison, no. I went to Chicago a lot. I spent a lot of weekends in Chicago. I spent a summer there, I spent one in Kansas City, [and] I would go to Minneapolis. I wasn’t aware back in 2005 of the comedy scene in Madison, otherwise I for sure would have been there.
The growth of the comedy scene here was kind of sudden. It seemed like one day it wasn’t there, and the next it kind of exploded.
Yeah, there is a scene there now, and it’s great. And I attribute that to The Comedy Club on State. They bring in great comedy and that inspires people to want to do comedy throughout the city and state.
A lot of people are going to know you from the season you spent on “Saturday Night Live.” What’s the day-to-day experience of being a featured player on the show?
It’s the same as the day-to-day of everything. You just work your butt off. You write all week and you hope you get on. Sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t. It’s long hours and stressful, and you never know if you’re going to be on the show, sometimes literally until the last second.
How did your stand-up crowds change after you left SNL?
Oh, I got to headline. It was great! [Laughs.] Before that I wasn’t headlining. I was still a biomedical engineer for money. That was my day job. After SNL, I got to become a full-time stand-up comedian, and people knew who I was when they came out to see me. It was great.
Have you ever tried to find a way to combine comedy and science?
Yeah, I used to do a podcast called Probably Science, which was a science-based podcast that was funny. I ended up leaving that to go do SNL, but they’re still doing it. So that’s the only time I’ve ever incorporated the two of them. Other than that, it’s kind of tough to do, like, scientist jokes. [Laughs.]
Is science just inherently dry and unfunny, or is there a way to take elements of science and find the humor in it?
I think there are just universal truths to day jobs. I talk a lot about my day job on my album. Even if you’re a scientist, you go to work with other people and adhere to certain formalities of what is an office job. So it’s not really that specific to science. I don’t talk a lot about the aortic valve.
Your description of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as sounding like “bing bong da-ding dong” has become my go-to way to talk about the band.
Yeah, I loved them until I smoked weed, and then I listened to the lyrics. I was like, “What is this guy talking about?” They’re a great band and everything, but then he’s just like “bada bing dong dong!” It’s like, okay, he’s just being a vocal instrument now.